The story is told of a woman who came into a famous art museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. She took only five minutes to walk briskly past masterworks produced over the centuries. Then with a harumph she turned her back to leave. A guard said to her quietly, “Madam, the paintings are not on trial. You are.”
This story points out two things I think young Latter-day Saints need to hear as they venture into the world:
(1) Your attitudes toward great works of creativity—paintings, sculpture, music, writing or other cultural expressions—say as much about you as they do about their creators, and
(2) You are bound to be asked: Who is to say what is true and good and beautiful and what is not?
Over the years, societies have accumulated wisdom and understanding of what is considered worthwhile. Great universities train students to appreciate the classic examples of human expression, sensitivity, and insight. Latter-day Saints are taught, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things” (A of F 1:13).
If all of that is lost on us, it is to some degree as if no one had ever learned or produced anything. Progress is not automatic. And treasures cannot be thrown away without great loss to you and those you influence. Some, trying to justify questionable efforts, seem willing to sell their intellectual and spiritual birthrights for a pot of message. In fact, enough of this happens today that the world in which you are living may emerge in history as the one which trashed the most treasures and treasured the most trash.
So how do you know what is truly admirable? How do you know what is worth seeking after? Here are some guidelines I believe any Latter-day Saint may follow as he or she tries to develop spiritual awareness along with a sense of joy and discovery.
Creative effort involves research. Joseph Smith taught that in knowledge there is power, and that the very power of God is related to knowledge and intelligence (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 288). You can be creative and make solid contributions in fields such as chemistry, physics, math, law, computer technology, history, and science, as well as in the humanities, literature, and communications.
Aspire to bring yourself to the frontier of some field. Some of the best equipped are those who learn in college how to learn and then continue a lifelong love of self-education. If you don’t have a sense of mission in your daily activities you will know little satisfaction.
I have often wondered how many thousands of people born in the 17th century could have been computer whizzes had they been given proper training and understanding. They could have turned out marvels of data access and problem solving. Yet they lived and died wholly unaware of their latent skills. If there is little difference between one person and another, then that difference is important. Make the most of it. See that your difference makes a difference. Don’t die with your own music still in you.
Let me pass on counsel given to me early on: Go where divine light and inspiration lead you. Go where the challenge is. Trust that if you are good at some things, or can become good at them, that is likely a clue to your missions and tasks. According to psychologist Calvin Taylor, everyone is a genius at something, even the retarded and the mentally disabled. In addition, we have it from on high that everyone has at least one spiritual gift (see D&C 46:11). In a focused and dedicated life, intellectual and spiritual gifts merge.
Full magnification of your talents awaits the hereafter. In the meantime you are working out a slice of an infinite spectrum. Do not despair of the gap between your present level and the level you hope someday to achieve. If you keep faithfully active each hour of the working day, you can count on waking up some morning as one of the able ones of your generation. Your society and your church will reach out for you as you become more qualified.
. As you learn, teach. From one-on-ones with family and friends, to sharing your insights with large groups, your livelihood and in any case your way of life will in part hinge on assignments to speak, respond, report, and write. That means no matter what else you do, you should hone your communication skills. Some of you will deal mainly with things—machines and operations. Others will deal with people. Whichever is dominant in you, remember that in every organization the problems that require the most finesse are people problems. Your smallest but greatest classroom will be the home. And the Church is one of the greatest on-the-job training labs in the world.
Build bridges. Both in the academic world and the religious world, you will find there is more that unites than that divides. Face-to-face and where possible heart-to-heart discussion is better than throwing rocks from a distance. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “we should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up” (Teachings, p. 316). He further taught and lived the principle: If you will not accept our religion accept our hospitalities (Words of Joseph Smith, 1843, p. 162).
Over the years, in a variety of gatherings about religious concerns, we have learned to follow three rules that diminish the heat and increase the light:
If you want to know what someone believes, ask him, not his ill-willed interpreters. State his position as he would state it.
Don’t compare your bests with others’ worsts. Compare fairly.
Leave room for holy envy. Be able to say, “Mmm, I could learn from that.”
4. Put a priority on family life. The Church is not the model for the family; the family is the model for the Church and the community. Whatever your status, you are always a participant in some sort of family, even if it is only your ward family.
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Marriage can be more an exultant ecstasy than the human mind can conceive” (BYU Speeches of the Year, 1976, p. 146). Whatever your endeavors, save your best efforts for your family.
Some years ago I encountered a brilliant neurosurgeon whose task at a world-famous hospital was to help patients with chronic pain. He put together a team of medical specialists and worked long and hard on the problem. Out of all the efforts and failures, one insight emerged: If there was no significant other—one for whom the patient cared and who cared about him or her—the team could do little or nothing to reduce the pain. This physician has since become a Latter-day Saint. He told me one day that, for many sicknesses, love, especially family love, is the only preventive medicine and the only lasting therapy.
5. Beware of bandwagons. We live in a generation that has an infinite capacity for taking offense and creating scapegoats. Somehow, whatever is wrong with the world, even one’s own private world, is wrong because of someone or something outside oneself. Of course we should throw our energies into causes of fairness and justice. But there is a certain madness in scapegoating. The agenda is vengeance, and vengeance is a self-destructive dead end.
One of the crucial demands of following the Savior is to break the chain of blaming others and to seek to perfect oneself. The only one who can limit your growth, your learning, and your unfolding of potential is you.
Why should the innocent bear the burdens of the guilty? If one is bruised and battered, is he not justified in reviling? Why should victims be asked to redeem the victimizers? Why should the gifted be shackled with giving when they can get away with hoarding and exploiting?
Because only when consuming alienation is met with relentless love and forgiveness will it melt. That is what Christ demonstrated for all time. He requires it of those who seek to be his disciples.
6. Seek sacred treasures. At Brigham Young University, I once sat with President Dallin H. Oaks, who is now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He looked up from his office in the administration building to the newly dedicated Provo Temple. We read each other’s thoughts. The temple is on higher ground. Its shadow does not reach the campus, but day and night its light does.
Sacred treasures are within those walls. Modern scripture calls them “powers of godliness” (D&C 84:20, 21). These diamonds withdraw at the hostile touch, and soot remains in the hands of those who come at them flippantly or superficially. “Trifle not with sacred things” (D&C 6:12).
The temple and Christ are the heart of our spiritual life. They have not been fully fathomed by any of us. As you seek to be a creative scholar, scientist, or artist, prepare yourself by being worthy. Then bring to the temple a consuming spirit of inquiry and lowliness of heart more powerful than the inspiration found in libraries, laboratories, or studios. Be among those who are eager to inquire of the Lord.
The temple removes blindfolds to eternal perspective. There, most powerfully, intelligence is manifest in light and truth that forsakes darkness. There you may commune with the ultimate Creator. And he will guide you in making best use of your talents, skills, and abilities.